With nothing but weeks of time to fill between Maine's Caucuses and this week's primaries, we heard unending talk about the importance of the Michigan Primary: It was going to be a pivotal contest. A proving ground. A test that might be make-or-break for both the presumed frontrunner Mitt Romney, and his fly-by-the-seat-of-his-pants challenger Rick Santorum.
Let's just tell the truth about it: It was a complete and embarassing flop for just about everyone involved.
Santorum and Romney really proved to be a pair of ridiculous bumblers. For Santorum, who's been making his case in terms of the economy and the need to revive America's manufacturing sector, Michigan should have been a wonderful opportunity to lay the wood to Mitt Romney, whose stance on the auto industry bailouts were criticized by even his key in-state endorsers.
But rather than stick to his guns, Santorum went wildly off-message, allowing his campaign -- through the cro-magnon throwback commentary of his super PAC sugar daddy Foster Friess -- to get stuck on the crank side of the contraception debate. And in his own words, Santorum offered up a silly critique of higher education and an ill-considered slagging of John F. Kennedy that had even his ideological allies' mouths agape. Those big leads he had in Michigan went away, and the fact that he stopped speaking the language of Michiganders was a big reason why.
But Mitt Romney did nothing with the opportunity either. Instead, he picked this week to stage a lengthy demonstration of how out of touch he is with ordinary people. He had Donald Trump interrupt Michgan voters' lives with robocalls. He talked about his wife's prized pair of Cadillacs. He strained to find fellowship with NASCAR fans, telling them that, while he didn't follow the sport closely, he counted many rich team owners among his
friends donors. And then he topped that off by ridiculing some of their rain ponchos.
And there was that constant robotic pronouncement that the trees in Michigan were the right height. Because what America needs now is a president who is closely attuned to arboreal standards.
So instead of a quality contest that pitted two candidates at their best, we got a joke of a race that ended with two frontrunners collapsed and gasping at the finish line, lucky that they didn't have any serious competition from a third party.
Romney managed to win his home state by a handful of percentage points and, like we suspected, was crowned the winner by the media, who immediately set about crafting the "Romney's back" narrative as if they were in thrall to the big red checkmark they'd put by his name after the final projection was made. It was left to Santorum surrogate John Brabender to point out that winning the popular vote only got Romney one delegate, and that everyone should pay attention to the action in the congressional districts, where Santorum was faring well.
At the time Brabender started trying to get giddy reporters to start paying attention to reality, it looked like Santorum might even prevail in the delegate count -- which would have put a real kink in everyone's story about Romney's triumph. Ultimately, the result ended up being exactly what everyone deserved -- a 15-15 tie in delegate allocation. That is, until the state party interceded and gave Romney a second delegate for winning the statewide vote, which Santorum had actually earned by getting more than 15 percent of that vote.
In short, everyone involved in the Michigan Primary -- from the candidates to the people who ran the show to the media that covered it -- found some way to avoid covering themselves in glory. And instead of being a pivotal contest (with only 30 delegates at stake, it was ridiculous to sell the primary as any such thing in the first place), it only re-inflamed all of the panicky uncertainty that preceded it. Is Romney going to close the deal? Is there going to be a deadlocked convention? Should somebody beg, threaten or blackmail some new candidate to jump into the race?
This all resets the stakes for Super Tuesday and once again, all of the expectations seem to be completely, willfully out of whack. According to Andy Kroll, New York Representative Peter King is hearing "whispering and mumbling ... among top Republicans" that if Romney doesn't break loose next Tuesday, there's going to be "more of an emphasis on having someone ready" to jump into the race. Meanwhile, Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley is totally certain that Romney is going to end the nomination process next week. But there are only 437 delegates at stake Tuesday, all the contests distribute them proportionally, and various candidates are projected to do better than others in certain states. So that won't happen.
But the fact that everyone is either unreasonably confident or unreasonably uncertain about a contest that's designed to be a prolonged battle between the top candidates speaks volumes about the state of the race, the height of the frenzy and the widespread dissatisfaction over the candidates who make up the field. And adding to the hilarity is the fact that at some point in the future, we might look back on all the delirium, dislocation and discontent and wonder why it even happened. The economy is still quite fragile, and if anyone thinks that Obama is a shoo-in at this point, consider this: He hasn't had a hundred fundraisers because they're fun.
Elsewhere this week, Newt Gingrich has made the price of gas his key issue, Ron Paul had new conspiracies to answer for, a Romney mistake gave Santorum an opening, and third-party contenders have started to plot their hopeful path to the fall debates. For all of this and more, please feel free to enter the Speculatron for the week of March 2, 2012.
If you're partial to examples of Mitt Romney doing things or saying stuff that makes him look like a weird robot aristocrat who lacks the skill to connect with ordinary people, then the last seven days must have been you're Mardi Gras or something. We had Mitt Romney making a microwaved speech before an empty football stadium as auto workers protested outside. There was his careful notation of his wife's set of bicoastal Cadillacs. He tried to connect with NASCAR fans by reminding them of all the rich team owners he was buddy-buddy with, and he awkwardly joked about the rain ponchos some were wearing at Daytona. "I like those fancy raincoats you bought," he said. "Really sprung for the big bucks." But it's all good! Romney, too, has had to wear a garbage bag in the rain like the rest of you sad hobos. He gets it! All of this led to various lampoons. Chris Matthews, in a gag that wasn't actually as funny or clever as he thought it was, made a video that referenced Academy Award-winner "The Artist" to make the joke that Romney can't open his mouth without a foot rocketing inside. Dave Weigel, plying a more subtle line of japery, simply suggested that we all refer to "accidentally bragging about your place high up in the economic stratosphere," as "Romneying." Of course, that'll be hard for most of us to do, right? (That's sort of the point.) For what it's worth, Romney is at least willing to cop to the fact that the disconnection is a problem. Still, it's possible that Mitt Romney might be better off just embracing his wealth and making do with whatever characterizations come his way. It would save everyone from the pain of sudden eyerolling when he does things like tell people that he is an unemployed person. Romney has certainly begun to indicate that he's willing to embrace to role of standard-bearer for the old-school Republican Party orthodoxy -- which doesn't exactly mean he's prepared to be as conservative as some might like. As Jonathan Chait observes, the most significant part of his new economic plan is that it signals an end to this brief period of "deficit mania" and "Republican fiscal conservatism": Romney is proposing a 20 percent across-the-board tax cut, to be paid for by unspecified spending cuts, unspecified reductions in tax deductions, and -- crucially -- "economic growth." Overjoyed conservatives, who until now had been flaying Romney for his insufficient commitment to the cause of supply-side economics, are now displaying the love they had been withholding. The Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Washington Examiner bestow upon Romney the sacred appellation of Reaganism. Reagan, of course, was not what you would call a deficit-slayer. Neither was George W. Bush, who also pursued a Reagan-esque budget vision. Romney is likewise signaling that, should he take office, the emphasis will turn away from deficits and toward "growth," defined as minimizing tax rates for the rich. The key tell here is his embrace of "dynamic scoring." This is a longtime fixation for Republicans, and understanding it helps understand the import of Romney's latest move. The core is a reasonable-sounding proposition that, when measuring the cost of legislation, budget agencies ought to take account of their effect on economic growth. A plan that would facilitate growth would result in higher tax revenue and thus smaller deficits. In theory, budget agencies could take this into account. A corollary is that, all things being equal, lower marginal tax rates will result in higher economic growth than higher tax rates. [...] In practice, "dynamic scoring" metastasizes itself as a demand by Republicans that they not have to provide any offsets for the cost of their debt-financed tax cuts, because those tax cuts putatively increase growth. And those assumptions in turn hinge upon wildly and even hilariously selective readings of the economics literature and recent history. And that's just the start of the ways Romney fits in to the traditional Republican mix with his budget/tax plan. As you might expect, Romney will cut taxes for the wealthy, and push the budget paring onto programs that primarily keep the poor from starving and freezing. Oh, and he can't pay for his tax cuts ... especially if he makes good on his threat to repeal ObamaCare. (And as of now, Romney's made no plan to replace it with anything -- we just go back to status quo ante health care conditions and the need for the CBO to procure taller sheets of graph paper to map the budget overruns.) Maybe it would be best if he simply embraced RomneyCare-slash-ObamaCare too, because while one begat the other, the fact of the matter is the policy that earned Romney a place at the presidential contender table in 2008 is working. At least one of his key advisers, Mike Leavitt, is also a fan of ObamaCare -- and he's set up a nice consulting racket to help states implement the president's health care reform. But Romney's primary concern after the primary this week was getting into a big tiff with Rick Santorum because of that time he reached out to Democratic voters to get their support in the Michigan primary. How dare Rick Santorum try to win the primary, right? Using a technique that Romney used himself? To Romney, Santorum's efforts were "dirty tricks" that threatened to "kidnap" the vote. And he made it clear that he was prepared to spend the next two weeks stamping his witty-bitty feet over the matter, even after the Michigan GOP said, "OMG, cry-baby, fine, we'll give you an extra delegate." Romney's weak showing in Michigan -- coupled with another embarrassing incident in which he either didn't know what the Blunt Amendment was or was made to retreat from his first position out of the political expedience required of him during this primary -- has kept GOP elites uncertain of their presumed frontrunner, has kept alive the notion of a dark-horse candidate coming into the race, and has allowed all manner of uncertainty to thrive. Is Romney weak or secretly skilled? Is he moderate or extreme? Should he abandon the debates or get back to doing them? Can he continue to get away with not pandering to the base? Is the primary hurting him? Or is he already wounded beyond repair? Actually, don't be surprised if we reach a time in our lives when we look back on these feverishly debated questions and the overall panic of the primary season and wonder why everyone made such a big deal about it. For the time being, the salient point is that Romney is in for a long haul if he wants the nomination, and for the first time, it looks like he might be in need of some money to ensure that his ride doesn't resemble the one his dog famously took.
Well, here's some good news for Rick Santorum. If the original intent behind this presidential campaign, which we'll readily admit has considerably transcended its quixotic beginnings and become something unexpectedly strong and, this week aside, worthy of respect, was to eliminate his "Google problem," then mission accomplished! This week, he finally made enough news outside the realm of anal kink to push the Dan Savage-created website that's bedeviled him for years to the second page of Google's search results for his last name. Of course, a lot of the Santorum-related news this week involved his near miss in Michigan, the way his decision to veer off-message likely drove down big leads in the polls he once enjoyed, and a lot of controversy over his reaching out to Democrats. Mitt Romney called the move a "dirty trick," suggesting that Santorum was attempting to exploit an ongoing campaign among Democratic activists to skew the Michigan result in Santorum's favor. Santorum vowed that he was merely trying to open his tent to "Reagan Democrats" and that he'd continue to do so. Regardless, it marks a Santorum flip-flop: previously the Pennsylvania senator was not kindly disposed to crossover votes in primaries. (Ironically, Mitt Romney was an enthusiastic advocate of the practice...until this week.) In the end, Santorum ended up with a decent share of the delegates -- though what perhaps should have been a 15-15 split ended up going 16-14 in Romney's favor after the state party got involved and juked the rules. Santorum's team was not pleased: "We've all heard rumors that Mitt Romney was furious that he spent a fortune in his home state, had all the political establishment connections and could only manage a tie with Rick Santorum. But we never thought the Romney campaign would try to rig the outcome of an election by changing the rules after the vote. This kind of backroom-dealing political thuggery just cannot and should not happen in America." Of course, Santorum's failings had a lot to do with the fact that he still can't escape some of the strange ideas he's got rattling around inside his head. He's gotten this idea that rising gas prices were what caused the recession, but this is a temporal impossibility. His comments on higher education were inaccurate in the way they characterized Obama's position and poorly received by people with any sort of aspirational hopes for their kids. (His belief that going to college makes people less religious, meanwhile, turned out to be completely wrong.) And attacking John F. Kennedy's position on religious freedom wasn't a winner for Santorum either. Beyond -- again -- getting it embarrassingly wrong, it turns out that Americans have profound disagreements with Santorum's contentions. This was made pretty clear after Michigan, where Santorum lost the Catholic vote. (Santorum admitted in the days before the primary that he wished he could take back what he said.) Over at Swampland, Massimo Calabresi suggests that Santorum's gloomy outlook is keeping voters from his embrace: At first Santorum's moral doom-saying just sounds like a slightly wacky play to the extreme wing of the GOP... But eventually it becomes clear that Santorum believes America's lax morals are leading to that kind of future. First you teach teenagers about contraception; the next thing you know you are voting in favor of warehouses of fetuses, grown for the benefit of mankind... On paper, Santorum might be a viable alternative to Romney. In a series of difficult Senate terms, Santorum was more successful than most in reaching across the aisle even as he rose in the GOP hierarchy. But Santorum sees a looming moral apocalypse, abetted by what are now mainstream positions in America. That's not a message that's going to win, even in a GOP primary. Time for a course-correction? Looks like it. Santorum had managed to regain his footing by the day of the Michigan primary, which helped him kill Romney's momentum and hold down his numbers, especially outside of the Detroit metro area. He largely did so by finally returning to an economic argument that focused on re-establishing his working class bona fides in a way that reflected poorly on Romney, while not alienating the working people who dream of sending their kids to college. Romney, of course, gave him an assist by talking about the NASCAR team owners he was great friends with and poking fun at people wearing rain ponchos. But it was nevertheless clear that Santorum was going to spend a little more time re-establishing the argument that he is the "conservative heavyweight" in the race. And in his post-primary speech -- in which he plainly wore the weight of his missed opportunity -- Santorum worked hard to undo the damage he'd inflicted upon himself. He went on an extended and sentimental jag about the educated women in his life, a pretty transparent attempt to get past the previous week's misogyny and his degrading comments on higher education. As Stephen Stromberg noted, it was a pointed retreat from the embrace of the "social conservative fringe." But Santorum has an excellent chance to revive his hopes -- again -- on Super Tuesday, especially in states like Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Ohio, where Romney's confusion over the Blunt amendment provided Santorum with an opening to criticize the front-runner in a more effective way. But Santorum could really benefit from Newt Gingrich dropping out of the race. He could also really use some quality endorsements right about now. He should probably work harder at keeping his temper in check during interviews. And maybe we're crazy here, but have things gone south for Santorum because he abandoned his trademarked sweater vests? He should think about bringing those back!
Ron Paul wasn't much of a factor during Tuesday night's primaries, finishing fourth in Arizona and third in Michigan -- results which kept him from accruing delegates. But chances are, the Paul campaign didn't have a whole lot invested in those results. Where they did enjoy a little bit of success, however, was in the Wyoming Caucuses, where his third place finish gave him a projected six delegates. And as always, Paul's granular approach to the caucuses make it eminently possible that he could emerge with more once the state concludes its entire delegate selection process. Paul did spend the week campaigning in Michigan, mainly in Detroit and Dearborn. If you recall, Rick Santorum had beef with Paul in the past couple of weeks because Paul was running attack ads against him in Michigan without actually competing there. But if you think that his presence in Michigan was going to tamp down Santorum's criticism that Paul was essentially wingmanning for the Romney campaign, think again. It was all anyone wanted to talk about. Tuesday night, he was pressed on the subject by Wolf Blitzer, and Paul said there wasn't any truth to the notion that he was in cahoots with Romney, pointing out that he's called him a flip-flopper in the past and has dedicated himself to showing a separation between his positions and those of his three competitors. But ThinkProgress found that in all of the debates, Paul never attacked Romney. He did, however, hurl criticism at Romney's rivals 39 times, singling out Santorum specifically 22 times. Blitzer pressed him on another hot rumor: BLITZER: They've got this notion that you would like to see your son, Rand Paul, the Republican Senator from Kentucky on the ballot with Mitt Romney and that's why you're supposedly protecting Mitt Romney in going after Rick Santorum. What do you think of that theory? PAUL: The first thing, it hasn't crossed my mind and second thing, I don't think it would work and third thing, I don't think Mitt Romney would be talking in that language at all. In the end, Paul ran an attack ad that included Romney, charging him with being a flip-flopper again. But it almost seemed perfunctory -- like he did it just because he wanted everyone off his back.
Newt Gingrich spent another primary night finishing out of contention -- third in Arizona, fourth in Michigan -- and was left to be treated as an also-ran. His primary night speech devolved into some extended reverie about cutting down a tree that got to be so long and dull that none of the news networks opted to stick with it to see how it might relate to what he'd just gone through with voters. If it's hard for you to see how Gingrich mounts some sort of comeback, the former speaker doesn't share your lack of VISION. But even Gingrich admits that it all hangs on what happens in Georgia, where polls still have him up by a large margin. Said Gingrich, "That is the key building block that we have to have to move forward in the presidential campaign. Georgia really does matter." Which isn't to say that he isn't eyeing some of Super Tuesday's other prizes, he's just been fairly pronounced in his belief that the remaining candidates aren't credible if they don't win their home states. Romney's managed his end of that particular bargain, now Gingrich has to own it, too. Which, to his credit, he's doing: "I have to win Georgia, I think, to be credible in the race." Despite this week's setback and the very fine line he'll have to walk in order to come back, his super PAC sugar daddy Sheldon Adelson is still taking a long position, and will be giving Newt a "sizable" amount of money for this last stand in Georgia. Gingrich has been back on the attack against his rivals, slamming Rick Santorum for his favorable treatment of unions -- a wedge issue he hopes will play strong in the southern states that Gingrich hopes to make his enclave. And in a battle of cafeteria Catholics, he also took issue with comments that Santorum made about John F. Kennedy, saying that Santorum "strongly overreacted" to a speech after getting its contents wrong. He mocked Romney for lacking any sort of bold, transformative vision, saying that he was the sort of man who "would have fired Christopher Columbus." Gingrich also said that it was time to end the debate over repealing Obamacare and begin the debate on its replacement. This is a potentially useful turn -- thus far, the candidates have avoided putting their own healthcare plans on the table and Gingrich is well capable of pulling something idea-ish out of his rear. (It might have been better if he'd brought it up at one of the twenty-something debates everyone had, however!) In Gingrich's larger argument against Barack Obama, he's staked a lot on the high cost of gas, and the idea that he has some magical way of bringing that price down to $2.50 per gallon. But as Ezra Klein explains, this is bonkers: Because oil prices are set on a world market, and there are a whole bunch of factors that affect prices. A healthier global economy means more global demand for oil. That pushes prices up. A new wave of middle-class consumers in China and India have been replacing their bikes with automobiles. That pushes prices up. Oil fields are declining in countries like Mexico. That pushes prices up. Saudi Arabia seems to be running low on spare capacity. That pushes prices up. Tensions in Iran have prompted traders to set oil aside for potential supply disruptions in the future. That pushes prices up. America's domestic oil production, by contrast, is a small part of the global picture. Dean Baker lays out some numbers: "U.S. production is roughly 8 million barrels a day, it accounts for less than 9 percent of a world-wide market that is close to 90 million barrels a day. Even if U.S. production could be increased by a third (an almost impossible increase) it would only increase world supply by 3 percent. This would lower the price of oil by 7-8 percent. This is not trivial, but it is not the difference between $2 a gallon gas and $4 a gallon gas." Yes, more drilling could allow us to reduce our oil-import bill, and that's no small thing. But drilling alone can't bring back $2.50-per-gallon gasoline. It's a desperate, almost crazy promise to make, but gas prices remain the outlying negative in what seems like an economic recovery. Gingrich may be foolish for suggesting that this gas price paradise is achievable, but strategically speaking, it shows that he's at least preparing to make a post-recovery economic argument. On other matters, Gingrich said that he's comfortable with marriage equality being decided by citizen referendum. He seems a lot less happy with the people of Afghanistan, however: Speaking at a Republican luncheon here on Monday, Mr. Gingrich amped up his criticism of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan after a string of attacks by Afghan soldiers on American troops. "We're not going to fix Afghanistan," the former House speaker said. "It's not possible." His prescription:"What you have to do is say, 'You know, you're going to have to figure out how to live your own miserable life... Because you clearly don't want to learn from me how to be unmiserable.'" Does this mean Gingrich is now pro-withdrawal? Or just that he's ready to blow up the counterinsurgency mission? It's a measure of how low his chances have become that no one's setting their hair on fire over this. Of course, that doesn't mean his presence in the race isn't consequential. As Steve Kornacki points out, Gingrich's presidential run has become somewhat important to one prominently involved individual: The pro-Romney forces clearly grasp the potential usefulness of Gingrich and are being fairly blatant in their efforts to fortify him. The story of Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate and Gingrich super PAC supporter, is well-known by now. Adelson has a long-standing personal and professional alliance with Gingrich, but he doesn't care for Santorum and has essentially been flipped by Romney's team. Adelson is still pouring money into the pro-Newt super PAC, but with the expectation that it won't be used to tear down Romney (as it was in South Carolina) and that Gingrich will play a key role in making sure Santorum doesn't win the nomination. In this way, Gingrich has become a "useful tool" to Mitt Romney, which is similar to what many in the GOP establishment have been saying about Gingrich all along. Save for the "useful" part.
Buddy Roemer remained on the ballot in Michigan -- getting 1,874 votes -- despite abandoning the GOP to take a shot at earning a place on November's ballot with either the Reform Party or Americans Elect. As we discussed last week, if the former really has its act together, Roemer might succeed -- relative to his likely competition, he's got the name recognition. Which is an interesting turnabout, considering his status in the GOP kept him obscure. As for Americans Elect, while Roemer can bring that organization what it craves the most -- publicity -- it's still hard to see how his platform meshes with the Americans Elect elite. (Roemer continues to demand that Americans Elect make its funding transparent, which we imagine drives it to distraction.) In the meantime, Roemer -- who might be the last candidate to ever bother to seek or receive matching funds after elections are permanently sent to super PAC hell -- is looking for help raising $30,000 for his campaign. He also briefly needed help unhacking his Twitter account. The latter task proved to be the easier. Nevertheless, people are beginning to size Roemer up as a potential third party candidate. The staff of the Bayou Buzz gave the matter some considerable thought this week: Roemer's third-party movement has to be of concern to both major parties. Recent polls show that 48% believe the country needs a third party. And 68% said they would definitely vote for or consider voting for a third party candidate. Roemer's campaign theme of taking on the special interests that control Congress and the corruptive influence of money in politics could ignite support for him among independent voters and among those who are dissatisfied with both the Republican and Democratic parties. "It is time to heal our nation. It is time to build a coalition of Americans who are fed up with the status quo and the partisan gridlock that infects Washington," Roemer said. This week, Roemer got into something of a tiff with Donny Deutsch, who is somehow a political expert on Morning Joe. After Deutsch described the campaign season as a "long television show" where the candidates needed to be "exciting people," Roemer had words about the vapidity of the comments: "I think it's always a component part -- how do you look, how do you act, do you make me laugh? -- that's always a part of it. But at the end of the day, Americans always vote in their family's best interest. At the end of the day, American has demonstrated the ability to choose between Abraham Lincoln and the other guy. Look, Donny, don't trivialize it." The irony is that Roemer does have a certain amount of charisma and charm -- it's just that so far, it's mainly manifested itself on the web. This led Mashable to speculate that Roemer might have success in trying to become the first "internet candidate." Having sized up his appearances on "The Daily Show," "The Colbert Report" and "Real Time With Bill Maher," we'd suggest that he might actually do better to make himself available to those shows at all times, and build a natural constituency in the late-night political comedy audience. They might not be predisposed to making him president, but reforming the political system itself? That's another story entirely.
Lord knows that we can't even begin to claim to be experts on the process by which you become the nominee of the Libertarian Party, but whenever we get a glimpse of Gary Johnson on the other side of a hurdle or finishing a campaign swing, it seems clear that he's going to emerge as its standard bearer in 2012. And that's really no mean feat -- during Johnson's run in the GOP race, he was always overshadowed by Ron Paul, the more famous libertarian poltico. But Johnson continues to mesh well. Campaigning in Georgia this week, Johnson won the Libertarian Party of Georgia Presidential Debate Straw Poll in a blowout. And he seems to have settled on a message: While the Republican nominees continue sniping at each other and President Barack Obama, former New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson continues to crisscross the nation under the radar as a third-party candidate. His message: "This country's up for sale." "Both parties have their hands out," Mr. Johnson, now running as a Libertarian, said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal during a trip through New York. "That's I guess what I've seen now at a heightened level." And wherever he goes, he gets people musing about the sort of effect he could have on the race as a third party candidate. Jim Galloway, who writes the Political Insider blog for the Atlanta Journal Constitution, said that compared to Jon Huntsman -- who last week made a call for a third party candidate (but did not ultimately volunteer himself) -- Johnson was "the better third party bet." And the Boston Globe's Garrett Quinn added speculation of his own: The former New Mexico governor could give the LP its strongest ticket since Harry Browne ran in 1996. If Ron Paul is not involved in the Republican Party's general election efforts his supporters could bolt for Johnson and make him a serious third party challenger. (As Galloway noted, an influx of Ron Paul supporters was what the last libertarian candidate, Bob Barr, was hoping for. It didn't materialize.) And one of the things that Johnson seems obligated to do is make it clear that he is not Ron Paul. In a profile on these pages, Joel Sucher points out that Johnson makes "concession[s] to real politick" and tries to draw in a wide coalition of voters. As always, Johnson talks about the way he integrated his political philosophies with the task of governing: Hitting the refresh button, Johnson goes to great lengths to separate himself from any notion that he's an "extremism in defense of Liberty," candidate, a la Barry Goldwater. He'll spare a few Federal bureaucracies, with appropriate cost cutting. That means the Department of Justice will survive because, as he'll tell you, there's a role for the Feds in guaranteeing civil rights from sea to shining sea. This places him at odds with some in the Ron Paul camp who've called for a repeal of the 1964 Voting Rights act as antithetical to "free association." In Gary Johnson's world view, individual rights - civil rights - still need protection; noting, "If the federal government didn't pass the civil rights legislation, what would life be like in Alabama and Mississippi?" While agreeing with Paul about scrapping Orwellian constructs -- namely, Homeland Security and TSA -- he goes easy on the Environmental Protection Agency, recalling his own experience as Governor dealing with some "really bad actors on the pollution front." Johnson's ultimate task? It mirrors one he struggled to achieve consistently during the primaries -- get into the televised debates. To do that, he'll have to pull a 15 percent in the polls.
A day after the Michigan primary, Fred Karger didn't have much to show for all the effort he invested in campaigning there for the past few weeks. He ended up with 1,225 votes -- 12 shy of Herman Cain. But this is what happens when you fight for every ounce of media attention and then lose most of those fights. And the next battle? Getting on the ballot in North Carolina, where the relevant officials seem to be sandbagging him. This week, Karger fared better than he usually does at getting his name in the press. He was interviewed on NPR's "All Things Considered" (they do promise to consider all things, so it's only fair!), where he outlined his strategy -- go-for-broke in the 8th Congressional District in Michigan and hope to grab two delegates on the cheap. The plan ultimately did not pan out, of course, but Karger did work at broadening his appeal to include Democrats (most of whom ended up voting for Rick Santorum). He reiterated his desire to offer a different version of a Republican candidate in a profile in the Daily Caller: "It's more of a moderate, centrist, Republican message that I bring," Karger explained. "And that is to try and bring back some of the many Republicans who have left the Republican party ... because they are very unhappy with the far rightward tilt of the Republican party." [...] I'm hoping there can be a Republican message that is not all hung up on these social issues," Karger continued, "and that they can put those aside and come in for our economic and fiscal responsibility issues, our smaller government and our strong national defense -- core Republican values." If he can't win, Karger might still have a role to play in "modernizing" the GOP. "My main purpose for running this campaign is three-fold: love of country, the Republican party, and impact for LGBT youth and seniors," said Karger, who added, "I thought I could add to the dialogue and bring back [the] optimism of Reagan." That said, there was reason for some pessimism this week when his campaign website was briefly taken down, after his web service provider hit him with a terms of service violation. Karger blames the Mormon Church for the outage, but the Mormn Church may have had a legitimate complaint, given that the Karger campaign put up a website ridiculing their religion.
Barack Obama is the king of holding fundraisers, which is great if you like that sort of thing, but wow -- he's done a hundred of these things? That doesn't make us cynical about the way money influences politics at all, right? Maybe we'd feel differently if we were the sort of people who were able to get their heads around spending $35,800 just to eat a meal. (Couldn't you take your extended family to a three-star Michelin restaurant for that amount of money?) Obama is also the king of benefiting from the long primary process that's apparently driving up the GOP candidates' negatives. But beyond that, we'd rate this week's "Obama numbers" as decidedly mixed. Will the Affordable Care act be an albatross around his neck in November? Maybe. Or, alternatively, maybe not. And how is Obama doing in those important swing states? Great! Unless, of course, he's doing terribly. This week, the hot topic for the administration was energy development. Obama's been out on the trail, making the case that he's got a plan to put the country on the right energy footing. His opponents have been making precisely the opposite case -- not just blaming Obama for rising gas prices, but suggesting that he has made gas less affordable by design. (Driving this discussion is a report on remarks by Energy Secretary Steven Chu that seemed to be several steps beyond the cognitive ability of a Politico reporter.) Regardless, if some sort of economic recovery happens, it's pretty clear that the price of gas is going to remain a cause for discontent -- and the Democrats are sort of hampered by the fact that when the shoe was on the other foot and George W. Bush was in the White House, they were happy to exploit the same issue. Of course, this week saw new achievements reached in the field of Birther Looney Tuning. Maricopa County sheriff and nativist crank cult figure Joe Arpaio has apparently got nothing to do in terms of his actual job, so this week, he held a vertiginously loopy press conference where he declared Obama's birth certificate to be a forgery, in a move that probably signaled the end of him being sought as a presidential endorser. (Though this time four years ago, he was pals with Mitt.) Arpaio's clown show stole the thunder from some Arizona weirdie who is filing suit in that state in an attempt to get Obama removed from the ballot on the grounds that he is a "mulatto" and "mulattos" do not have "political rights" under the Constitution. Happily, America is a kind nation, where these people will be taken care of, and not allowed to die in a festering puddle of their own leavings, which is where they would otherwise end up in nature. If anything, Obama continues to seem unruffled by all of this. At least that's how he came across in an interview with Bill Simmons, in which the two men talked about basketball and culture. Obama offered that his favorite character from "The Wire" was Omar Little -- which, let's face it, is sort of what everyone says (we'd actually make the case for Lester Freamon). But there's an interesting little secret message in Obama finding fellowship with Omar. If you recall, his most famous line in the show was, "If you come at the king, you best not miss." Of course, it's best to not be too prematurely confident, either.
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